“I’m destined for the street-level struggle — that’s just gonna be my whole life, and I accept that.”
A maverick of American cinema, Richard Linklater has been making movies for 25 years. Not bad for a guy who introduced the word “slacker” into the English language. Linklater, whose films include “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused,” “School of Rock” and the remake of “The Bad News Bears,” has worked on studio and independent movies, documentaries and animated features without ever compromising his personal vision. His latest, “Me and Orson Welles,” is about a young actor (played by Zac Efron) who talks his way into a role in the Mercury Theater’s 1937 production of “Caesar.” As opening night draws near, he finds himself a romantic rival of the legendary Welles (newcomer Christian McKay).
Richard Linklater talks to TheWrap about why it took two years to find a distributor for the movie, the sinking fortunes of independent film, the studios’ declining interest in Oscars and lobbying for arts funding in public schools.
We did like an old-fashioned screen test. I just wanted to work with him for a weekend, talk to him, because I knew this would be such a marriage. I didn’t have financing for the film or anything at that point — I just had the book. So I felt really lucky it all came together with him in the lead.
Yeah, it was a little bit going backward in time. Christian had to lose a little bit of weight. But Welles was never young. In the next May of ’38 — six, seven months after this — he was on the cover of Time magazine, he looked 70 years old. He was in “Heartbreak House” and he looks like this old, weathered guy, the character he’s playing.
The facts are we could’ve signed with any number of distributors — it’s just the deals were not appealing to my European producers. We’re living in an era now where people are paying $20,000 for million-dollar films. We’re a market that is subject to fluctuations, like we’re commodities or pork bellies or something.
He was his own mythmaker, the most unreliable narrator of his own life. But I think there’s some truth to it. This is the kind of movie where we honor the myth.
All of the above. I’m lucky I got in there when they were still making films like this, and I got established to whatever degree. I mean, it’s still a struggle getting financing. For every film I get made, there’s usually a film I don’t get made. I had a script I was very passionate about and I just couldn’t get it financed. It’s not like I’m a made man who gets everything he wants.
Studios are run by shareholders and profits and losses. The only time you see studios pouring money into an adult-oriented, Oscar-worthy film is when they have someone strong, like a Brian Grazer or Ron Howard, who makes them spend the money. They’ve abdicated this kind of film. They say, “You guys can have those. We’re in the business of making big movies that make a lot of money.” And they’re doing a great job of it. They really know how to market those films.
I think it’s movies that are doing their part to dumb down everything. When you take what used to be B movies or exploitation films and then spend $200 million on them, they’re the high-range movies now — and they’re really for 12-year-old boys. Unfortunately, it kind of works both ways. Hollywood doesn’t make movies for adults because adults don’t go to movies. Every now and then a film breaks through. Like “Julie and Julia,” I think the strength of Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep got that film made at a pretty big level and it was successful.
If you were to observe our industry from afar, that would definitely be the way you’d think it’s going. But I honestly believe — and maybe I’m just optimistic or romantic — I truly believe that people want to have a wide variety of filmgoing experiences in the theater. It’s up to adults to actually support those movies.
We had a screening, kind of a benefit for Americans for the Arts, an old arts organization that lobbies Washington for arts funding. It was kind of bizarre that Zac, Claire and myself ended up on the Hill and at the White House, talking about our own experiences in public schools. It’s really sad — arts is always the first to be cut. I run a nonprofit in Austin where we give out grants. It used to be given out by the NEA, but they cut out this kind of funding.